"I handed in my resignation a few years ago when we had a CEO who I definitely thought was taking the company in the wrong direction," he confides. "The next day, I got a call from the chairman of the board, who told me that the CEO was let go. I think what happened is they had heard a lot of things about this guy, but when they heard that I was, you know, throwing in the towel, they made a change.

"So, you see, if I couldn't be me, I wouldn't be here. If someone said, 'Here are the corporate rules and regulations,' and they didn't fit my m.o., I'd be gone."

As he fends off another phone call and waves away some display makers waiting outside his office, Van Doren doesn't look as though he's going anywhere except back to work as soon as you let him go. And that's perhaps the best indication that there truly is something special about Vans' tradition, although you have to search beneath the T-shirts and baggy shorts, the suits and the ties, the press releases and the stock reports-and whatever event Vans is latching onto this week-to find it. Same as it ever was, says Van Doren.

"My dad was a tyrant," he says, guffawing like a grenade launcher. "I always had to get up early the next day and work the warehouse and open stores. I guess I had good training. It came from a maniac, but it stuck with me."

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